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OPINION: ‘Land issues’

Monday 1 August 2022 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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OPINION: ‘Land issues’
Te Rua Manga (the Needle) and Te Manga, is the highest point of the Cook Islands. Picture: SIVA GOUNDER/22061004

This land is your land this land is my land from the deep blue ocean to the high green mountains, from the taro swamp lands to the outer islands, this land was made for you and me.

Land is the gift of nature, the earth beneath our feet, the provider of food and foundation for our many exploits and endeavours and the bane and cause of every war in the world now and forever from our past to our future.

People comment how primitive we are with our fighting especially in the land courts. In the outer islands they still work upon traditional giving of land without complaint.  In Rarotonga the introduction of the English land court has allowed the nit picking of lawyers and their laws to overturn practices long held and accepted as cultural rulings. In the end it is not the families who benefit, it is the lawyers and the land agents who receive payment whether they win or lose. In the eyes of land lawyers, they have a job to do, their own family to support and due to the lack of choice and the lure of money can be hired by the ‘other side’ in the appeal. The advantage is they know the story and weaknesses of the first family they represented. Families fighting each other over land continues their employment.

There are good land lawyers, genuine, caring and overworked, and there are those who are ‘ambulance chasers’ jumping in to find any small law loophole to squeeze themselves into payments worth thousands in tala or land. They may not have blood rights to the land but they will be the only ones benefitting from the constant court appearances and appeals.

It often befalls to those living here to take care of the land acquired by the family for the legacy of future generations, who may never come back to live. Some come back to succeed their slice of paradise only to leave once it’s settled, to be maintained by those who remain. Others come hat in hand asking for land so they can raise their family and live here in the Cooks.  Then after securing the land by emotional blackmail, they offer it up for sale for the highest bidder and the family who believed their story now have to pay lawyers to fight the sale of family land going to outsiders.

As the generation living here, we inherit the legacy of our ancestors who have told the family the history of where they planted, who they gifted land and why.  Sometimes, like Muri it’s for future generations of the community who can use and benefit from the land. 

Churches sit on family land often in prime beachfront areas.  What happens as the new generations evolve not agreeing to religion on the land? Could prime real estate leave the prayers of the elders for sand mining and profiteering of a generation suffering to live in this world with higher costs than those of the past? 

War for land is fueled by greed. Those who already have land want more and will deny anyone new coming to have land. The local cry is ‘what have you done for the land?’ Show your intention, service on the land used to be the currency of favour by the elders towards consent.

Now this is no guarantee of getting land. You can have majority landowner signatures, majority shares agreed and the land court can still rule against you due to one objection from family.

Land disputes can result in ‘guns drawn at dawn’ scenarios as seen in Ukraine and recently in Turangi but other more manipulative and sneaky ways are being used in Rarotonga via the new family law act. 

The family law act was created to protect the vulnerable and abused victims of domestic violence. In its initial reading several senior police officers could see problems in the wording of it. This law designed to give ‘battered or abused’ women instant protection from threat, has become the go to for land hungry conspirators to kick family off land they want for themselves.

Land lawyers are seeing it constantly and police are writing protection orders like vouchers for obvious land issues. With no evidence and a good Hollywood audition one can convince police to immediately issue a trespass notice to unsuspecting family members, even if police agree it’s not a domestic abuse matter.

Families are being divided by a law that skips mediation and goes straight for the jugular. Who wins? Is greed by malice the law for the land now?  Elders say, go slowly, tread carefully, all decisions have consequences. The land speaks, it was here before you it will remain long after you. It sees how you treat it and the spirit of those before you.